ISLAMABAD, Oct 11: A panel of jurists has endorsed the contention of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the National Assembly that the Constitution allows it to summon the Supreme Court registrar for regularisation of annual expenditures incurred on superior courts.
The PAC had invited Senator and veteran lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan, former Senator and senior lawyer S.M. Zafar, former chairman of Senate and prominent lawyer Wasim Sajjad, Supreme Court Bar Association’s President Yasin Azad, Justice (retd) Tariq Mehmood and Justice (retd) Shabbar Raza Rizvi to its meeting.
SCBA chief Yasin Azad, Justice (retd) Tariq Mehmood and Justice (retd) Shabbar Raza Rizvi attended the meeting presided over by PAC Chairman Nadeem Afzal Gondal here on Thursday, but Mr Ahsan and Mr Sajjad promised to send their written opinion and Mr Zafar expressed inability to attend.
When the forum was opened by the PAC chief, Mr Yasin Azad said there was absolutely no justification for SC’s argument that parliament couldn’t summon its registrar because it would undermine the independence of judiciary.
“How come putting your (Supreme Court’s) annual expenditures on record will have an adverse impact on supremacy of the judiciary. Moreover, I am unable to understand if all other government departments come before the PAC then why not the SC registrar,” the SCBA president said.
Justice (retd) Tariq Mehmood said Article 79 of the Constitution stated that the parliament house was the custodian of both consolidated and public funds. Therefore, the PAC had every right to keep a check on expenditures of the Supreme Court.
He said Rule 203 of the National Assembly categorically underlined that all government departments whose audit was conducted by the auditor general of Pakistan had no option but to appear before the PAC.
Commenting on the full-court sitting of January 7, 2006, in which all 17 judges of the Supreme Court had opposed appearance of the SC registrar before the PAC, Justice Tariq Mehmood said it was a non-binding administrative decision, not a judicial one.
The full-court meeting had argued that since the chief justice had been given complete financial independence under the law, there was no need for its registrar to appear before the PAC.
He said since the Constitution fully supported the PAC in its right to summon the SC registrar, there was no need for the committee to look for a judicial decision on the subject as suggested in the full-court decision.
Justice Shabbar Rizvi said the SC registrar was violating the Constitution by not appearing before the PAC.
He said if the SC was spared then all other government departments and divisions would come up with the same argument.
“It will simply open a Pandora’s box that will have serious repercussions for the PAC,” Justice Rizvi argued.
Emboldened by the favourable opinion of legal experts, members of the PAC made some harsh remarks against the judiciary. Rukhsana Bangash of the PPP said: The Chief Justice should start respecting the PAC if he wanted to bring transparency in the country.
Zahid Hamid of the PML-N said when the PAC talked about calling the SC registrar for regularisation of accounts, “we talk about our legal mandate.”
Yasmin Rehman of the PPP wanted to know about the pending business against the SC in the PAC since 1998 because until the SC registrar appeared before the committee, apex court’s appropriation grants couldn’t be settled.
Hamid Yaar Hiraj of the PML-Q said: “After listening to these legal experts, I am really feeling empowered because they have said what we could not say for so many years about the judiciary.”
The PAC accepted the offer of SBCA president to talk to the chief justice and persuade him to ask the SC registrar to appear before the PAC and avoid a confrontation.
The PAC chairman said the committee would wait for Mr Azad’s response, otherwise it would use its powers to force the SC registrar to appear before it.